Apr 07, 2023

Chemical found in Splenda damages DNA: 'Genotoxic' discovery

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America's favorite artificial sweetener could have some bitter health effects, including damage to your DNA.

Splenda is the brand name for sucralose, often added to diet sodas, baked goods, chewing gum, gelatins and frozen desserts.

It's even found in drug products like Tylenol, Pepcid and cold and flu medicines.

Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar and is the best-selling artificial sweetener in America, with sales roughly double those of its nearest rival, Sweet’n Low.

But sucralose has been found to be genotoxic, meaning it breaks apart the DNA in chromosomes and can lead to cancer, according to new research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.

In the human body, sucralose breaks down into a compound called sucralose-6-acetate, which can damage the lining of the intestine.

"Other studies have found that sucralose can adversely affect gut health, so we wanted to see what might be happening there," Susan Schiffman, PhD, study author and adjunct professor at North Carolina State University, said in a news release.

What they found was alarming: "Sucralose-6-acetate significantly increased the expression of genes associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and cancer," the study authors wrote.

"Our in vitro studies used human tissue, so the findings are directly relevant for the human body," Dr. Schiffman added.

The new study adds to earlier research that finds sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate can also cause intestinal damage.

"When we exposed sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate to gut epithelial tissues — the tissue that lines your gut wall — we found that both chemicals cause ‘leaky gut,'" Dr. Schiffman said.

"Basically, they make the wall of the gut more permeable. A leaky gut is problematic because it means that things that would normally be flushed out of the body in feces are instead leaking out of the gut and being absorbed into the bloodstream," Dr. Schiffman added.

"Independent scientific studies show that ingestion of sucralose can damage the cell membranes of the gut and cause irritable bowel syndrome," Dr. Schiffman told Newsweek.

The makers of artificial sweeteners, however, assert that their products are safe.

"Sucralose has undergone one of the most extensive and thorough testing programs conducted on any food additive in history, resulting in consensus on its safety throughout the global scientific and regulatory community," a representative for the International Sweetener Association told Newsweek.

Some health experts also question the relevance of the new study.

"The findings raise potentially concerning findings that deserve further study, but do not practically reflect what occasional or even frequent ingestion of sucralose-sweetened food and beverages have on health," Dr. John Damianos, a hospital resident at Yale School of Medicine, told Medical News Today.

Nonetheless, artificial sweeteners have been scrutinized for years, and several studies have linked the products to health risks.

A 2020 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that sucralose in combination with carbohydrates (like those in baked goods) can swiftly turn a healthy person into one with high blood sugar, the Washington Post reports.

And in May, the World Health Organization recommended that artificial sweeteners like Splenda not be used for weight control.

The use of artificial sweeteners "does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children" and "there may be … an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults," according to a WHO news release.

Considering the risks of all added sweeteners — artificial as well as natural — Dr. Damianos encourages people to consider healthy, low- or no-sugar options.

"Instead of soda or diet soda, switch to seltzer water," Dr. Damianos recommends, adding, "Instead of highly processed foods and drinks to satisfy that sweet tooth, grab fruits with their natural sugars paired with an abundance of health-promoting fiber and phytonutrients."

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